President’s Message — Groundwater Storage Levels on the Rise
Water storage levels in the Orange County Groundwater Basin rose for a third straight year due to the Orange County Water District’s (OCWD; the District) groundwater management programs and above average precipitation levels in two of those years. OCWD continues to work to refill the groundwater basin after water storage levels fell to an alarming 18% due to the severe drought of 2012 to 2016. The groundwater basin is now about 75% full.
This calls for a sigh of relief. How brief or long that relief is, is anyone’s guess.
Facing the challenge of increasing demands for water over its 86 years has fostered a history of innovation and creativity that has enabled OCWD to increase available groundwater supplies while protecting the long-term sustainability of the basin. Even during the worst days of the drought, the 19-member agencies of OCWD who pump groundwater for their communities were getting 77% of their water from the basin. This was a considerable savings as imported water, which is purchased to make up the remainder, is about twice as expensive, and not always reliable during droughts. OCWD was a model for groundwater management when the state of California established criteria and required yearly plans from groundwater agencies for the first time ever in 2014. Our District was the first water agency in California to prepare a groundwater basin management plan (1989). The plan was developed to protect and enhance groundwater quality, protect and increase the sustainable yield of the basin in a cost-effective manner, and increase the efficiency of District operations.
The District also adopted principles to guide its advocacy relating to water infrastructure funding. It has invested hundreds of millions of dollars to provide infrastructure that helps to provide the region with a dependable water supply. It created the Groundwater Replenishment System (GWRS), the ultimate advanced water purification project that provides 100 million gallons a day of high-quality water that goes back into the basin. The board has voted to begin the GWRS final expansion. When the GWRS is completed in 2023, it will provide enough water for 1 million people in north and central Orange County.
Continued smart investment and long-term planning is required as challenges of managing the local water supply increase each year.
What we do is no secret. We share. Hundreds of engineers, scientists and water leaders from all over the globe visit OCWD each year to learn from our expertise. Collaboration has resulted in greater efficiencies of how we run our plant and we have learned how to better extend the life of parts critical to the technical procedure of providing purified water. We also have made greater advances in energy usage which directly related to lessening our carbon footprint and lowering energy costs.
In the spirit of collaboration, we are open to the next big water savings and cost savings efforts, so long as they advance the goals and high standards we’re known for at OCWD.